What is the Family court process?
Whether you are going through the family court process for matters relating to your children or to consider how to resolve your finances with a former spouse or civil partner, the process and terminology involved can often be confusing.
In order to start either process, the person wishing to submit the court application must first attend a Mediation, Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM), save for limited exceptions. This is an individual appointment which only one of the parties attends. At the MIAM, the mediator will inform you what mediation involves and consider whether it is suitable in your circumstances. If mediation is not considered suitable or the other person does not wish to attend mediation, the mediator will sign the paperwork to enable you to start the court process.
Your solicitor will complete the court application forms for you; a C100 for children proceedings and a Form A for financial proceedings. You will need to pay the court fee; £215 for children matters and £255 for financial proceedings. You will then receive confirmation that the court has processed your paperwork (often referred to as issuing your application) and notice of the date when your hearing will take place.
Preparing for a hearing
Before a hearing takes place there will be a number of steps that need to be completed depending on which family court process you are involved in. If your Solicitor is unavailable to represent you at the hearing, one step that will be required for all proceedings (where you are legally represented) is for your solicitor to instruct a barrister to represent you. This is sometimes referred to as briefing a barrister. Your solicitor will speak with a number of barrister chambers (the name for the offices for a group of barristers) to determine who may be available to represent you. This means your solicitor will be able to provide you with absolute choice of barrister and can find various options depending on the relevant specialisms and suitability to your matter. A range of price options can also be offered as there will be junior and senior barristers available for selection.
Your solicitor will be responsible for providing the barrister with all of the information they require to represent you at the hearing. The barrister will then prepare a position statement which summarises the factual background and what you would like to happen at the hearing. The barrister will send this to the court and the other party the day before the hearing. The barrister will also speak on your behalf during the hearing itself.
Often, your solicitor will also need to prepare the court bundle for use by the Judge or Magistrates during the hearing. The court bundle contains all of the key documents which relate to the court application. The court require this to be provided at least 3 working days before the hearing takes place.
In certain matters, you may have to demonstrate to the court the steps that have been taken to try and resolve matters prior to the hearing taking place. This is why it is always important to consider whether there is an alternative way of resolving matters instead of going through the court process.
What are the alternatives to court?
You should always firstly consider whether you can try to resolve matters directly with the other party. If you are unable to reach an agreement then you should consider whether the assistance of a neutral third party could help resolve any issues between you. This process is called mediation and may be able to help you reach an agreement. If this proves unsuccessful then you can consider asking a solicitor to negotiate on your behalf or looking at the court proceed.
Obtaining legal advice at an early stage will help assess which option might be the most appropriate in your situation.
For more information on the family court process and how we can help you, please contact Nicola Weeks.